Three weeks of AAF action are now in the rear view mirror, and the third week of the inaugural season had some surprises, some disappointments, and of course some interesting plays to break down. Here is a look back at some of Week 3’s best designed plays, some game balls to award, and some questions answered and even more raised by the action on the field.
Passing Design of the Week
The San Antonio Commanders dropped to 1-2 on the season with a loss out west to the San Diego Fleet. However, if you tuned in early to this contest you got a chance to see a passing design many of you probably recognize from watching the NFL: The Yankee concept. Face it, any time a team makes a house call on their first passing attempt of the game, something has likely gone right.
On the first play of the game Fleet quarterback Philip Nelson was intercepted by Commanders quarterback De’Vante Bausby. That set San Antonio up with a 1st and 10 on the San Diego 47-yard line. They lined up for their first play from scrimmage with quarterback Logan Woodside (#5) under center and with 12 offensive personnel on the field, using a bunch look to the right side of the formation:
Just as the play begins, wide receiver Greg Ward Jr. (#84) starts in orbit motion from right to left. Woodside takes the snap and fakes an inside handoff to running back Kenneth Farrow (#20) and then fakes the end-around to Ward:
This is all eye candy, however, and the true meat of this play is the Yankee concept. Tight end Evan Rodriguez (#88) runs the over route from right to left, while Mekale McKay (#82) runs the deep post:
Looking at the play from this end zone angle, you can see how the design of this play works to manipulate the safeties. San Diego is using a two-deep coverage here, and the over route from Rodriguez occupies one safety, Jordan Martin (#22). McKay still needs to get behind the other safety, Ryan Moeller (#25). Moeller, however, makes McKay’s job a bit easier when his first few steps are to his right, and not deep, as he watches Ward on the potential end-around. That gives McKay the advantage:
The Fleet would go on and take the win, making this play more of a Pyrrhic victory, but anytime you score on the first play of scrimmage, it takes great design and execution. San Antonio got both on this play.
Rushing Design of the Week
On the flip side, the Fleet rallied from the difficult start to pull out the 31-11 victory. Nelson rebounded from the early interception to throw two touchdown passes, but one of the big stars of the game for the Fleet was running back Ja’Quan Gardner, who carried the ball 12 times for 122 yards and this huge touchdown run.
Something to watch going forward are draw plays in the AAF. Last week’s “Rushing Design of the Week” was a draw from the Arizona Hotshots, and Gardner’s touchdown run was an 83-yard explosion that also came via a draw play. Perhaps the defensive rules up front the AAF make these plays more viable, due to the limit on defenders that can rush the passer. Those rules might give the blockers a chance to get advantageous angles on these designs.
Early in the third quarter the Fleet have a 22-8 lead, but are in a bit of trouble. Thanks to a sack of Nelson on first down and a false start penalty they face a 2nd and 22 on their own 17-yard line. They break the huddle and put Nelson (#9) under center using 11 offensive personnel. Gardner (#32) is the deep back in the I-formation behind tight end Gavin Escobar (#89):
Gardner is barely touched on this run:
Reviewing the end zone angle illustrates how this design comes together. Center Jeremiah Kolone (#62) and left guard Damien Mama (#71) execute a double-team on the defensive tackle, with Mama eventually climbing up to Bausby (#41) on the second level. Right guard Beau Nunn (#67) handles the other defensive tackle, allowing Escobar to aim right for the middle linebacker:
Gardner follows his tight end and then splits between Kolone and Mama, as the guard is working to the second level. The blocking is perfect, the read and footwork from Gardner are as well, and 83 yards later, the Fleet are back on the board:
Keep watching those draw plays…
Pressure Design of the Week
Despite the relaxed pass rushing rules in the AAF, defenders are still finding ways to get to the quarterback. You can add Orlando Apollos linebacker Earl Okine to the list. In Orlando’s victory over the Memphis Express on Saturday, Okine was able to get to Express quarterback Zach Mettenberger thanks to some true discipline on the edge.
Midway through the third quarter the Express trail 21-9, but are looking to get back into this game via a critical scoring drive. They face a 1st and 10 on the Apollos’ 32-yard line, and line up using 11 personnel. Mettenberger (#8), who replaced an ineffective Christian Hackenberg (more on that in a moment) lines up under center. Okine (#59) is in a three point stance across from the tight end on the right side of the offense:
The Express use a play-action boot concept, with Mettenberger faking a handoff on an outside zone running play to the left before rolling back to the right. Critical to the development of this play is the notion that the backside defensive end – in this case Okine – will bite on the fake, allowing the quarterback time and space when he rolls back to the right.
Okine is not fooled:
The linebacker stays home and angles towards the quarterback as he retreats deeper into the pocket. Okine finally grabs ahold of Mettenberger and spins him to the turf for a loss of 12 on the play.
Memphis would eventually get into the end zone on the drive, but it would be their final possession of the game, as Orlando was able to run out the clock.
Coverage Design of the Week
The Salt Lake Stallions finally tallied their first victory of the season, knocking off the previously unbeaten Arizona Hotshots 23-15 in Saturday’s early game. This was a contest that was tied at nine at halftime, and with the Hotshots having possession to start the third quarter, the visitors were in position to break the tie with a scoring drive of their own.
Linebacker Greer Martini had other ideas.
Martini (#51) intercepted Arizona quarterback John Wolford (#7) on the first play of the third quarter, on a play that changed the entire course of this game:
Martini uses length and quick thinking here to get in front of this attempted slant route. As you’ll see on this replay angle, the Hotshots run a standard run/pass option look here, with Wolford reading Martini when deciding to hand the ball off or pull the football and throw the slant. Martini takes a step or two down toward the potential run, which gives Wolford the idea to pull and throw. But the linebacker immediately retreats and gets into the throwing lane, then uses his long arms to snare the interception:
Add in some pressure off the edge and a hit that knocked Wolford from the game, and you have a game-changing defensive play. The Stallions would score a few plays later, and were on their way to their first victory.
Game Ball – Trent Richardson, Running Back, Birmingham Iron
Early in this NFL season the former Alabama running back might be the story of the AAF. Richardson’s yardage totals were not huge on Sunday, as he carried the ball 17 times for 46 yards, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, but he worked into the end zone three times as the Birmingham Iron knocked off the Atlanta Legends to move to 3-0 on the season. In a league mining for diamonds in the rough, as well as a few redemption stories, Richardson is firmly atop that latter category. Oh, and he’s also atop the league leaders in touchdowns, with six on the young season.
Week 3 Question Revisited
After last week’s games we pondered if Memphis would make a chance at quarterback. It seems that day has arrived. Hackenberg struggled again early against Orlando, and in the wake of his second interception head coach Mike Singletary made the move to Mettenberger. The backup responded by completing 9 of 12 passes for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns, helping Memphis crawl back into the contest. You can expect him to be the starter going forward, and one cannot help but wonder what – exactly – happened to Hackenberg. After a stellar freshman year at Penn State where he looked every bit the part of a future first round pick in the NFL, he now finds himself on the bench for the Memphis Express in the inaugural season of the AAF.
Week 4 Question: Best in the West?
The East Division of the AAF currently boasts the league’s two unbeaten teams, Orlando and Birmingham. A week five showdown looms between those two teams in the near future. But what is the best squad in the West? Is is Arizona, who started the year 2-0 but just lost their first game, and perhaps their quarterback? Is it San Diego, who have ripped off two-straight victories? Or is it Salt Lake, who earned their first victory of the season over Arizona and looked like a more complete team with Josh Woodrum back under center. This weekend will give us some answers, as the Stallions look to get to 2-2 on the season as they host Orlando, while both San Diego and Arizona look to capitalize on games against Memphis and Atlanta, respectively, the two teams in the AAF without a victory on the year.